Across the Bay

Book review by
Monica Encarnacion, Common Sense Media
Across the Bay Book Poster Image
Emotional but unlikely journey of boy in Old San Juan.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Misses opportunity to teach kids that every action has a consequence: Carlitos sneaks out of his home but doesn't get in trouble. Limited Spanish -- more could have added extra value.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about family and true meaning of home -- families can be different, home is where you are loved, families count on each other -- but misses the mark when Carlitos goes off on his own and doesn't tell his mom or abuela.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Beautiful representations of culture and people of Puerto Rico -- minimal Spanish. Carlitos' rash act is not one to follow.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Across the Bay is a story based on author-illustrator Carlos Aponte's childhood in Puerto Rico. This colorful picture book transports readers into the heart of Puerto Rico as young Carlitos goes off on a voyage to find the father he yearns to meet. Even though Carlitos is happy with his family, a desire for more pushes him to sneak out of his home and take a ferry to San Juan all by himself to find his father. Vibrant illustrations in a tropical palette draw readers in as Carlitos makes his way across the bay and then wanders through the streets of Old San Juan searching high and low for Papi. Eventually, Carlitos realizes that he already has everything he needs with his mother and his abuela, and he returns home without finding his father. It's a joyous but unresolved ending. Parents might be concerned that the story presents no consequences or reprimand from Carlitos' family for his rash and potentially dangerous decision to sneak out of his home and travel to the capital city alone.

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What's the story?

ACROSS THE BAY is a heartwarming story of a young boy's search for family and identity. The main character, a young boy named Carlitos, lives in the small town of Cataño, Puerto Rico -- across the bay from the capital, in a happy home with his mother, his abuela, and their cat, Coco. Carlitos loves his family but notices that something sets him and his family apart. Other neighborhood kids play basketball, learn to ride a bike, and go to the barbershop with their father while he goes to the barbershop with his mother. When Carlitos asks about Papi, his mother tells him that his father is across the bay in Old San Juan. She explains that "sometimes things don't work out" and reassures him that he is loved. Still, his yearning for his father takes him on a solo journey to find him. He tucks a photo of his father into his pocket and leaves home without anyone noticing, boarding a ferry all by himself to Old San Juan. Almost immediately, Carlitos can sense the vastness of the city as he watches Old San Juan grow bigger and bigger from his seat on the ferry. Once across the bay, he enlists the help of strangers but is unsuccessful in his quest to find Papi. His journey takes him through the maze-like streets of the old city, to old viejitos playing dominos on the street, to a lively parade, and finally to the castle El Morro, where he learns an important lesson. The colorful characters he meets along the way help illustrate a cultural setting and become part of the boy's emotional journey to find the true meaning of home. Eventually he makes his way to the edge of Old San Juan, where, from across the bay, he catches a glimpse of his hometown and is quickly reminded of where he belongs.

Is it any good?

This is an enchanting picture book set in Old San Juan. Carlos Aponte's vibrant illustrations bring the color and personality of Puerto Rico to life but may leave you longing to hear more Spanish. The occasional "buenos dias" and a short verse from a popular Puerto Rican song are about all that's included. Still, Across the Bay beautifully captures some of the unique culture and colorfulness of the ancient city of Old San Juan. Each page also displays a varied spectrum of brown skin shades that may prompt young readers to appreciate differences and find beauty within their own uniqueness. It's a story that can also speak to kids whose families don't look like everyone else's.

Carlitos' decision to take off on his own may be concerning but could also present a great opportunity to talk with kids about possible dangers, including reasons why they shouldn't talk to strangers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how families look different in Across the Bay. What makes a family?

  • What do you know about Puerto Rico? What places in Old San Juan would you like to visit?

  • Have you ever taken a big trip without telling or asking a grown-up? Do you think Carlitos should have told his mom or abuela that he was going to Old San Juan? Why?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Latinx stories and bilingual books

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